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Liberia news

CEMENCO’s wastes endanger residents

CEMENCOs NDChemical wastes being disposed off by the Liberian Cement Corporation or CEMENCO in the demolition of its former cement factor along the Gardnerville Freeway, Somalia Drive are allegedly posing serious threat to human lives, residents of adjacent communities have complained.

CEMENCO, which is a subsidiary of Heidelberg Cement based in Germany, was established in Liberia since 1968, enjoying full monopoly as the only cement production company in the country.

Nevertheless, the company’s General Services Manager, James D. Gibson, Jr., says CEMENCO is primarily cement grinding plant, and not an integrated plant, arguing that cement from its old factory is caked or baked cement, which has no asbestos; therefore, the current exercise possesses no health risk to communities and residents as being claimed.

Mr. Gibson had earlier asserted the company hired to do the demolition of the obsolete plant has the expertise to execute the job, but as the discussion continued, he asked to be excused for a few seconds and upon his return, said the demolition has not begun and in fact, the bidding process was still ongoing with three companies vying for the contract.

However, community residents and environmental experts say the exercise, which has not met requisite relevant environmental procedures, possesses grave danger to human lives, especially where the chemical wastes are being dumped.

An independent investigation by this paper revealed that CEMENCO has actually begun demolition of its 40-year-old structure, ignoring all environmental procedures such as awarding the contract to a company that is involved in scrap business with adequate experience in the demolition of such highly chemical waste.

According to EPA demolition and safety procedure, which is in line with international best practices, such clearing of industrial wastes should be executed by a duly registered professional company contracted to remove the Asbestos.

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In the dismantling of the Asbestos, an environmental agent must be present at both the clearing and dumpsites. The burial site must be known and a billboard must be erected at the dumpsite, and pictures should be taken during the process from start to finish.

The procedure further states that since particles attached to the structure frame, both in and outside, are hazardous, demolition would have to be done under calm and favorably conducive weather and an industrial vacuum will have to be used to remove all dust particles both in and outside of the structure to be demolished, among other standards.

But our investigation shows that all of the above requirements were being ignored by the management of CEMENCO as the asbestos on the old factory have been removed and only the skeleton structure is visible.

What is even more worrisome is that the location of the dumpsite is not known and the company, North Star, which was awarded the contract, is a scrap company owned by Indian businessmen with no experience in clearing such highly dangerous material as they lack the equipment to do the work.

In an effort to further understand the danger and health implications of the demolition of the old factory and where the chemical wastes are currently being buried or disposed off, an environmental expert, who asked for anonymity, was contacted.

He termed the process as illegal and further said such act by the company has the propensity to cause an environmental catastrophe, especially for the two communities in which the current demolition is being carried out.

He added that the waste from the old CEMENCO factory is more dangerous than the Ebola virus and if care were not taken, the entire district where the wastes are being dumped could be exposed to cancer.

However, CEMENCO General Services Manager Gibson said the Environmental Protection Agency is involved in the process, but the company has not obtained permit from the Ministry of Public Works, something which he says is still being worked on.

To confirm EPA’s involvement, this paper also made frantic effort in reaching the office of the Media and Communication Officer of the EPA, who claimed he was busy and could not comment. Contact numbers were left for a follow-up call but up to press time, he did not respond to the specific inquiry.

It may be recalled in September 2013, the Liberian government through the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) took legal action against the Liberia Cement Corporation (CEMENCO) following allegations of pollution from its operations in Monrovia.

The government conducted medical examinations on dozens of residents in the Belema Community in Virginia outside Monrovia, and doctors established that indeed, cement dust from the company was causing disability and lung infections.

By C. Brown Dennis-Edited by Jonathan Browne

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